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Breaking away from instructional control and moving into collaborative intervention in education

The theoretical, methodological, and empirical studies presented in this book can be combined into the expansive learning approach to education as collaborative intervention in schools and communities. A crucial issue underlying this approach should be a new understanding of power in education as an intervention. Notably, Engestrôm argues that the new generation of activity theory is precisely interested in generating new power as follows:

I think that there is a fundamental difference between activity theory and most sociological approaches that treat power as something that is there. These approaches emphasize that power needs to be discovered and disclosed critically, how power works and how people are oppressed by power. This can be very valuable and necessary. On the other hand, for instance, Karl Marx did not stop there. He wanted to show how power can be generated and how new power can be created. That is exactly what I think activity theory aims at.

(Yamazumi, 2020, p. 15)

For the expansive learning approach to education as a collaborative intervention, an extremely important concern should be whether various participants involved in educational activities realize that they gain power more than anything and use that power to take charge of the intervention process. Therefore, creating new power is an essential agenda for activity-theoretical collaborative interventions.

From the perspective of such an expansive learning approach, new forms of education should be reconceptualized as dialogically negotiated activities in which various agents produce new collaborative interventions while transforming their activity systems. That is why this approach seeks to overtake the false assumption of “complete instructional control over learning” (Engestrom, 2016b, p. 14). If the mechanism of transition from one learning action to the next is seen based on that assumption of instructional control, the sequence of learning should be understood that it appears to have been “transplanted” from outside by the “wise” people of the culture. Countering such a view that depicts the transitional mechanism as rational and voluntary, the expansive learning approach in collaborative interventions proposes an alternative notion of transitional mechanism, that is, inner contradictions as transitional sources.

In this way, the mechanism of transition from one learning action to the next in expansive learning is seen as not “instructional guidance” but “the stepwise evolution of contradictions inherent in the object of learning—that is, in the activity that is being transformed” (Engestrom, 2016b, p. 27). The inner contradiction of existing dominant activities is a dynamic source of the transition to new activities.

Contradictions differ from the troubles and conflicts faced by each individual. They are structural tensions produced in the history of activity systems of practice and are confrontations and struggles that arise between a variety of different motives for practical activity. In this sense, contradictions are backgrounds or contexts beyond each individual that may cause trouble and conflicts. Namely, contradictions are oppositions that can arise at the level of the activity system.

These contradictions arc not necessarily bad or something to be avoided. They arise when an actor, in order to meet new and concrete needs, engages in an activity that is incompatible and opposite to the hitherto dominant practical activities. This is precisely why contradictions act as the driving force behind change and development. In other words, contradictions are tensions that move us in the direction of realizing the potential of creating a new activity that is incompatible with the hitherto dominant practicalactivities, even though it plays out within them. The discovery of new needs that contradict old activities leads to the expansion of activities, that is, the creation of a new activity through the practice of trying to meet these needs in collaboration with others, using instruments and things as mediational means. Such a new activity that can meet our concrete needs is precisely what transcends the contradiction between the exchange and use values and generates what is useful for living; in other words, it creates a new use value.

The expansive learning approach to education as collaborative intervention can only begin with existing conflicts and dissatisfactions among participants involved in learning in schools and communities. Such rejection and deviation from standardized procedures and scripted norms arc spontaneous indications that the involved participants’ agency—in other words, participants as collaborative change agents—is at work there.

Activity-theoretical collaborative interventions in expansive learning in schools and communities provide a promising scenario that would evoke and generate the involved participants’ collaborative and transformative agency for educational change as creating an emerging new historical activity type, collectively and expansively mastered activity type, from below. Through their own collaborative analysis and intervention, they do not follow a predefined course, but instead attempt to accomplish an expansive transition into something that is not yet there.

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